Authors: Holly Black
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General
ALSO BY HOLLY BLACK
Modern Faerie Tales
The Spiderwick Chronicles
The Field Guide
The Seeing Stone
The Ironwood Tree
The Wrath of Mulgarath
Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles
The Nixie’s Song
A Giant Problem
The Wyrm King
Fall under the spell of the
2010 Best Books for Teens
YALSA 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults
“A noir thriller.”
New York Times Book Review
* “Powerful, edgy dark fantasy.”
, starred review
* “Fascinating and carefully developed characters.”
, starred review
“Prepare to be entangled by a new kind of Black magic.
is her most riveting work yet.”
—Scott Westerfeld, author of
“I was on the figurative ‘edge of my seat’ the whole time while reading
, right up until the last page left me gasping (literally) with shock.”
—Novel Novice blog
MARGARET K. M
An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2010 by Holly Black
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
is a trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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Also available in a Margaret K. McElderry Books hardcover edition.
The text for this book is set in Cambria.
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Margaret K. McElderry Books paperback edition February 2011
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:
White cat / Holly Black.—1st ed.
p. cm.—(The curse workers)
Summary: When Cassel Sharpe discovers that his older brothers have used him to carry out their criminal schemes and then stolen his memories, he figures out a way to turn their evil machinations against them.
ISBN 978-1-4169-6396-7 (hc)
[1. Science fiction. 2. Swindlers and swindling—Fiction.
3. Memory—Fiction. 4. Criminals—Fiction.
5. Brothers—Fiction.] I. Title.
ISBN 978-1-4169-6397-4 (pbk)
ISBN 978-1-4424-0597-4 (eBook)
FOR ALL THE FICTIONAL CATS
I’VE KILLED IN OTHER BOOKS.
Several books were really helpful in creating the world of the curse workers. In particular, David R. Maurer’s
The Big Con
, Sam Lovell’s
How to Cheat at Everything
, Kent Walker and Mark Schone’s
Son of a Grifter
, and Karl Taro Greenfeld’s
I am deeply indebted to many people for their insight into this book. I want to thank everyone at Sycamore Hill 2007 for looking at the first few chapters and giving me the confidence to keep going. I am grateful to Justine Larbalestier for talking with me about liars and Scott Westerfeld for his detailed notes. Thanks to Sarah Rees Brennan for helping me with the feeeelings. Thanks to Joe Monti for his enthusiasm and book recommendations. Thanks to Elka Cloke for her medical expertise. Thanks to Kathleen Duey for pushing me to think about the larger world issues. Thanks to Kelly Link for making the beginning far better and also for driving me around in the trunk of her car. Thanks to Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Gavin Grant, Sarah Smith, Cassandra Clare, and Joshua Lewis for looking at very rough drafts. Thanks to Steve Berman for his help working out the details of the magic.
Most of all, I have to thank my agent, Barry Goldblatt, for his encouragement; my editor, Karen Wojtyla, who pushed me to make the book far better than I thought it could be; and my husband, Theo, who not only put up with me during the writing, but also gave me lots of advice about demerits, scams, private school, and how to talk animal shelters out of things.
I WAKE UP BAREFOOT, standing on cold slate tiles. Looking dizzily down. I suck in a breath of icy air.
Above me are stars. Below me, the bronze statue of Colonel Wallingford makes me realize I’m seeing the quad from the peak of Smythe Hall, my dorm.
I have no memory of climbing the stairs up to the roof. I don’t even know
to get where I am, which is a problem since I’m going to have to get down, ideally in a way that doesn’t involve dying.
Teetering, I will myself to be as still as possible. Not to inhale too sharply. To grip the slate with my toes.
The night is quiet, the kind of hushed middle-of-the-night quiet that makes every shuffle or nervous panting breath echo. When the black outlines of trees overhead rustle, I jerk in surprise. My foot slides on something slick. Moss.
I try to steady myself, but my legs go out from under me.
I scrabble for something to hold on to as my bare chest slams down on the slate. My palm comes down hard on a sharp bit of copper flashing, but I hardly feel the pain. Kicking out, my foot finds a snow guard, and I press my toes against it, steadying myself. I laugh with relief, even though I am shaking so badly that climbing is out of the question.
Cold makes my fingers numb. The adrenaline rush makes my brain sing.
“Help,” I say softly, and feel crazy nervous laughter bubble up my throat. I bite the inside of my cheek to tamp it down.
I can’t ask for help. I can’t call anyone. If I do, then my carefully maintained pretense that I’m just a regular guy is going to fade forever. Sleepwalking is kid’s stuff, weird and embarrassing.
Looking across the roof in the dim light, I try to make out the pattern of snow guards, tiny triangular pieces of clear plastic that keep ice from falling in a sheet, tiny triangular pieces that were never meant to hold my weight. If I can get closer to a window, maybe I can climb down.
I edge my foot out, shifting as slowly as I can and worming toward the nearest snow guard. My stomach scrapes against the slate, some of the tiles chipped and uneven beneath me. I step onto the first guard, then down to another and across to one at the edge of the roof. There, panting, with the windows
too far beneath me and with nowhere left to go, I decide I am not willing to die from embarrassment.
I suck in three deep breaths of cold air and yell.
“Hey! Hey! Help!” The night absorbs my voice. I hear the distant swell of engines along the highway, but nothing from the windows below me.
“HEY!” I scream it this time, guttural, as loudly as I can, loud enough that the words scrape my throat raw.
A light flickers on in one of the rooms and I see the press of palms against a glass pane. A moment later the window slides open. “Hello?” someone calls sleepily from below. For a moment her voice reminds me of another girl. A dead girl.
I hang my head off the side and try to give my most chagrined smile. Like she shouldn’t freak out. “Up here,” I say. “On the roof.”
“Oh, my God,” Justine Moore gasps.
Willow Davis comes to the window. “I’m getting the hall master.”
I press my cheek against the cold tile and try to convince myself that everything’s okay, that it’s not a curse, that if I just hang on a little longer, things are going to be fine.
A crowd gathers below me, spilling out of the dorms.
“Jump,” some jerk shouts. “Do it!”
“Mr. Sharpe?” Dean Wharton calls. “Come down from there at once, Mr. Sharpe!” His silver hair sticks up like he’s been electrocuted, and his robe is inside out and badly tied. The whole school can see his tighty-whities.
I realize abruptly that I’m wearing only boxers. If he looks
ridiculous, I look worse.
“Cassel!” Ms. Noyes yells. “Cassel, don’t jump! I know things have been hard . . .” She stops there, like she isn’t quite sure what to say next. She’s probably trying to remember what’s so hard. I have good grades. Play well with others.
I look down again. Camera phones flash. Freshmen hang out of windows next door in Strong House, and juniors and seniors stand around on the grass in their pajamas and nightgowns, even though teachers are desperately trying to herd them back inside.
I give my best grin. “Cheese,” I say softly.
“Get down, Mr. Sharpe,” yells Dean Wharton. “I’m warning you!”
“I’m okay, Ms. Noyes,” I call. “I don’t know how I got up here. I think I was sleepwalking.”
I’d dreamed of a white cat. It leaned over me, inhaling sharply, as if it was going to suck the breath from my lungs, but then it bit out my tongue instead. There was no pain, only a sense of overwhelming, suffocating panic. In the dream my tongue was a wriggling red thing, mouse-size and wet, that the cat carried in her mouth. I wanted it back. I sprang up out of the bed and grabbed for her, but she was too lean and too quick. I chased her. The next thing I knew, I was teetering on a slate roof.
A siren wails in the distance, drawing closer. My cheeks hurt from smiling.
Eventually a fireman climbs a ladder to get me down. They put a blanket around me, but by then my teeth are chattering so hard that I can’t answer any of their questions. It’s like the cat
bit out my tongue after all.
The last time I was in the headmistress’s office, my grandfather was there with me to enroll me at the school. I remember watching him empty a crystal dish of peppermints into the pocket of his coat while Dean Wharton talked about what a fine young man I would be turned into. The crystal dish went into the opposite pocket.
Wrapped in a blanket, I sit in the same green leather chair and pick at the gauze covering my palm. A fine young man indeed.
“Sleepwalking?” Dean Wharton says. He’s dressed in a brown tweed suit, but his hair is still wild. He stands near a shelf of outdated encyclopedias and strokes a gloved finger over their crumbling leather spines.
I notice there’s a new cheap glass dish of mints on the desk. My head is pounding. I wish the mints were aspirin.
“I used to sleepwalk,” I say. “I haven’t done it in a long time.”
Somnambulism isn’t all that uncommon in kids, boys especially. I looked it up online after waking in the driveway when I was thirteen, my lips blue with cold, unable to shake the eerie feeling that I’d just returned from somewhere I couldn’t quite recall.
Outside the leaded glass windows the rising sun limns the trees with gold. The headmistress, Ms. Northcutt, looks puffy and red-eyed. She’s drinking coffee out of a mug with the Wallingford logo on it and gripping it so tightly the leather of her gloves over her knuckles is pulled taut.
“I heard you’ve been having some problems with your girlfriend,” Headmistress Northcutt says.
“No,” I say. “Not at all.” Audrey broke up with me after the winter holiday, exhausted by my moodiness. It’s impossible to have problems with a girlfriend who’s no longer mine.
The headmistress clears her throat. “Some students think you are running a betting pool. Are you in some kind of trouble? Owe someone money?”